Victoria Falls Trip Day 3: Hwange

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We began day three a bit bleary eyed from having been accosted by mosquitos all the previous night. There really is nothing like being inside a mosquito net while the mosquitos hover around, banging up against the net. Like being in a shark cage, but a bit less conscious.
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We packed up and sped out of Jafuta and Vic Falls, intent on buying food in Hwange (Rhodies often pronounce this “Wanky”), and possibly refueling there. We arrived in Hwange town and promptly discovered that the local supermarkets weren’t open; “No ZESA!” which means no electricity (ZESA is the sole electric company for the country). No electric means no computer cash registers (“tills”) and no lights. Also no refrigeration. We waited around with the crowd of would-be shoppers for the doors to open for a while. The kids became restless. All we needed was some pasta at the very least, as our next destination had cooking facilities (the term is “self catering”).
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Leaving Jean and the girls behind, Dad, Lucas and I drove a bit further, looking for another supermarket that was open. We found one, and got some basic supplies, though still no pasta or sausages. We returned, still the first supermarket had not opened. Word on the street was someone was trying to find a generator repairman, for indeed they had a generator. Again, Dad and Lucas, and now Laura, and I pushed off, driving further still, finding a supermarket with some bread. We planned on grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. We swung back around to get Mom and Jean and the girls, and fuel. Whoops, still no power, the electric pumps cannot function. For a country with such power issues, it’s amazing businesses still rely on electricity so much.
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Off we went, driving at 55, sometimes 60(impressive for the Maruti) MPH, along the expertly manicured highway, finally making our way into Hwange main camp.
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We made a short stop at the Painted Dog Sanctuary.

We just made the 2pm cut-off for entry (after 2pm, one doesn’t stand much of a chance to make it to a camp before dark, which could be bad with lions). After paying our entry fees we drove another 120 kilometers through the park, endeavouring to do a game drive. It was quite uneventful, unfortunately, the most exciting thing we saw were some bubbles and perhaps the snout of a hippo, and a few elephants. We also saw some emaciated carcasses of dead elephants, which we heard are typically ones that have starved. Unfortunately, the practice had been to artificially create or maintain water holes in order to attract the elephants and increase tourist traffic, though that contributed to a rise in population. Ultimately the government stopped providing money for out of season watering, and in the height of dry season, one can see many dead or dying elephants in the park.
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We made our way up a ridge to Sinamatella Camp, and checked into two aging, quaint lodges. Fortunately the ZESA was with us, enabling me to dish up some grilled cheese sandwiches (we’d brought cheese in the cooler, some ham too). We feasted on box wine and grilled cheese, overlooking wandering herds of elephants far below, the sun painting a collage of pastels as a backdrop. The wind kicked up and signaled a storm coming in, and we took the opportunity to bathe the children. Our ceiling fans blew away any mosquitos that may have assailed our nets that evening. A thunderstorm ripped its way across the low veld, but only woke us occasionally.20130125-123958.jpg

Victoria Falls Trip Day 2: Victoria Falls

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The second morning we woke early, Jean getting up early enough to capture sunrise. We packed and went on a small guided nature walk before breakfast. Sam, our guide, showed us archeological evidence of both the early native bushmen, and immigrating Bantu tribes; clay dishes and pots, iron ore, cave paintings. We scrambled up solid granite and down sandy paths in the brush, and saw Darcies, and birds.

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After a delicious breakfast of toast and honey, eggs, sausages, bacon and drinks, we shoved off for a second day of driving. We made good time, though leaving late meant we stopped for a quick sandwich of cold cuts and cheese, which we’d brought from home, on the side of the road. We were keeping an eye out for the Painted Dog Conservancy, though not spotting it, we continued on. Stopping for fuel at a Total station when Jean was on fumes, Jean mentioned her steering had been squirrely for last hour or more, and at last had made a horrible noise as she pulled in. We checked it out and Jean discovered that the left tie rod had come loose, a cotter pin shearing off and allowing the securing nut to unscrew and pop off. We passed a few tense minutes while the gas station attendant looked for a nut. Fortunately he quickly found one and reassembled the steering system! We even bought a spare nut and paid the mechanic and attendants for their heroism.20130125-120210.jpg

We continued on to Jafuta Lodge, some 10km outside of Victoria Falls, did a quick check-in, and hopped in the cars again to get a late afternoon viewing of the falls.
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After parking and waving off the touts, we quickly paid our entry fee and entered the park, the late afternoon sun winking at us through the lush foliage lining the slick sidewalk. We made our way to the various lookout points, walking a couple kilometers altogether. The falls, though not at their highest volume, it being the beginning of rainy season, were spectacular. We took photos, videos, spotted a rainbow, and got misted on a lot. It was marvelous.
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We left, passed up on the “sunset prices” the vendors offered in the parking lot, and made our way back to Jafuta Lodge. Braving the mosquitos, we dined outdoors. The food, while not a five star restaurant, was adequate and filling. Butternut squash seems to be a specialty in this country, perhaps because it grows so well here. Retiring to our lodges, we bedded down, the girls sharing a cabin with Laura and Lucas with us. My parents, much to their delight I’m sure, were on their own. Jean and I shared a twin bed, quite a feat when you consider there was also a mosquito net. The animals at the watering hole made no noises that kept us up…

Victoria Falls Trip Day 1: Under African Skies

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On 14 December, Jean and the kids and I, accompanied by my parents and my sister, Laura, departed Harare for our great Zimbabwe vacation. We would drive a clockwise tour around Zimbabwe, beginning in Harare, getting to Big Cave Lodge in Matopos, shooting up to Victoria Falls, then coming back down a bit to Hwange National Forest, then over to Lake Kariba where we’d stay a night before taking Kariba Ferry the length of the lake and then deboarding for a short drive to Chinhoyi Caves and finishing in Harare again, six days later.
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The Maruti, made new with fresh suspsension upgrades, a new water pump, timing belt, new head lamps and other miscellaneous improvements, held half our crew, while our CRV held the other. We had basic provisions and a few jerry cans of fuel to hold us if we ran across a dry spell.
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The first morning we made good time from Harare, though about an hour out, Merrill decided to empty her breakfast onto herself and the floor, lending a characteristic smell that would last the entire journey. We made Kwe Kwe before lunch and refitted and watered, then made Gweru by lunch where we stopped for fuel and lunch at a Chicken Inn (South African version of KFC).

By late afternoon we arrived at Big Cave Camp, parking our vehicles in the scrubby shaded brush at the bottom of a kopje (KOHPYEE or KOHPEE), a rocky outcropping on top of which was the series of buildings at make up the camp. The hotel staff drove down a safari-converted pickup truck (benches and awning in the bed) drove down and picked us and our luggage up, crawling up the steeply canted sheer rock face to the reception and dining area.
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We split up among a few stone cabins, Jean and the kids and I ending up in “Ingwe,” or “leopard.” After exploring the rocks for a few minutes, observing many different types of lizards running about, we retired to the pool and enjoyed the late afternoon sun while the kids splashed around.

Dinner was a pleasant affair in the main dining room, though instead of lingering to chat, we excused ourselves just after dessert to view the stars, quite plentiful since we were well removed from civilization. I snapped off a few 30 second exposures on my tripod. Star trails will have to wait until I get a remote for the camera. We slept well, protected by our mosquito nets, though there were none to speak of in this season or elevation.
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